John Borrows

Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law

Tier 1 - 2017-11-01
University of Victoria
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council


Coming to Canada From

University of Minnesota, United States

Research involves

Exploring indigenous environmental legal reasoning and traditions, and evaluating how they could help resolve disputes within communities.

Research relevance

This research will lead to new legal frameworks to resolve disputes within indigenous and other communities.

Turning to Indigenous Laws of the Past to Guide us in the Future

Indigenous law helps us answer pressing questions facing indigenous peoples and Canadians in general. It is based on things such as custom, deliberation, stories, song, dance, language, legislation, treaties, agreements, and contracts. Indigenous laws are also drawn from analogies related to the environment.

Dr. John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, is focusing his research on how “environmental” laws of indigenous peoples (the laws which flow from how they use natural processes to guide them in regulating their communities and resolving their disputes) can be applied more broadly.

For example, on Vancouver Island, Borrows and his research team will address three indigenous legal traditions. They will work with Hulq’umi’num speakers to understand the role of snuw’uyulh (which means “our way of being on Mother Earth”) in their legal system. Secondly, the team will explore the contemporary legal applications of the Nuu-chah-nulth principle of heshook-ish tsawalk (which means everything is one and connected). Lastly, they will look at how the Kwa’kwakwak’w term nowaluk (life’s animating and connecting force) is theorized and practiced within Kwa’kwakwak’w society, and with other peoples.

Borrows and his team will also study Anishinaabe legal traditions from the Great Lakes, and explore how the theory and practice of akinoomaagewin (aki meaning earth and noomaage meaning to point towards and take direction from) provides guidance about how the Anishinaabe should practice law.

Ultimately, by drawing on indigenous environmental legal reasoning and traditions, Borrows and his team will provide indigenous communities with resources to help them regulate behaviour and resolve disputes, both within their own communities and in relation to other peoples.